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Matt's Monday Morning Musings

Kickoff Week - Joe Milton to Joe Cool

QB Joe Milton throws on the run
Photo Credit - Chris Gillespie via

Nothing is fair in this world. Taxes, unfair report cards, getting left on read by that girl you bought drinks for. In every profession, there are added layers of unfairness. From sudden job demotions to being overlooked by an outside hire for a promotion you're actually qualified for.

In the world of football, there is nothing like the unfairness of having to be the guy who has to follow "THE" guy, whether you're a quarterback or a coach. Imagine having to replace Nick Saban when he eventually retires. Charlie Strong had to follow the footsteps of the great Mack Brown at Texas. Poor Barrett Trotter finally got to be the full-time starting QB at Auburn following the departure of some guy named Cam Newton.

Imagine being John Brantley, Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel after the Tebow years.

Point is, there's pressure to be "THE" guy in sports, and then there is the pressure of being his replacement afterwards. The expectations are raised if everything went right for your predecessor. The minute you screw up everyone starts calling for the guy, after the guy, AFTER "THE" guy.

College head coaches have it easier. Just say no the first time and let some other dude crash and burn first before taking over when the expectations have tapered a bit.

Not so easy for quarterbacks. Either be good or be gone.

This season, there are plenty to choose from with various pressures. For Caleb Williams at USC, it's simply getting Lincoln Riley and the Trojans over the hump. For Spencer Rattler at South Carolina, it's finally putting it all together and making it back into the first round of the NFL Draft. Bo Nix, Jayden Daniels and Carson Beck all walk into the season with championship aspirations on their shoulders.

No other QB has more pressure on them to deliver, than the one and only Joe Milton III at the University of Tennessee.

Last year, the Vols returned to prominence under Josh Heupel's fast-paced air raid/RPO/spread high-powered offense. Finishing with an 10-win record for the first time since 2003. That was behind the arm of Heisman contender and eventual 3rd-round pick Hendon Hooker, who transferred from Virginia Tech.

Unfortunately for Hooker, disaster struck in Columbia and he went down with an ACL tear, giving way for Milton to come in and tack on one more touchdown for the Vols, before the Gamecocks spoiled Tennessee's playoff hopes. The rest of the season, Milton held the job. He finished with an acceptable 10 touchdowns to 0 interceptions, with over 900 passing yards and a QB rating of 83.8, winning Orange Bowl MVP along the way.

That was at the end of the 2022 campaign however, and before then he was seen in garbage time. We have yet to see him against the Alabama's and the Georgia's of the world.

Now, Hooker is off to the NFL, and it falls to the Orlando native to keep the Vols in the thick of the SEC East race. With a revenge game against the Dawgs on November 17th, in what's bound to be a rocking Neyland Stadium. Depending on how Milton handles the ball, the Vols could very well be 10-0 walking into that game with a playoff spot on the line.

There have certainly been rocky times on Rocky Top the last decade or so. Fans simply wanted Josh Heupel to beat one of the big three rivals last year. He beat two. To suddenly lose all momentum would be the heartache to end all heartaches for the Vols. Milton's biggest knocks have been his health, accuracy and turnovers throughout his careers at Michigan and UT. He cleaned up the interceptions last year, so now we just need to see him perfect the deep ball and stay healthy all season.

There is no shortage of weapons for him. Bru McCoy and Squirrel White return to Rocky Top and the offense may have a new OC with Joey Halzle, but asking who will run Josh Heupel's offense is like asking who will run Kirby Smart's defense, does it really matter?

It all falls on Milton. The difference between the Vols finishing either 7-5 or 11-1 hangs on his transformation from Joe Milton to Joe Cool. The arm cannon is there, the talent is there...

...And if not, former five-star California native Nico Iamaleava is also there.

Good luck, Joe.

Matt's Monday Morning Mailbag

"How long until they adjust the 12-team playoff for realignment?" - George

Fan pack Oklahoma for a home game

I actually had several questions, so real quick:

- Auburn does NOT cover the 38 point spread vs. Umass, but they won't lose. It'll be a blowout until the fourth quarter and Don Brown's squad will get some garbage time points, so bet with caution.

- Notre Dame's offensive line DID look a little suspect at first, but it was the first game with all the jitters and Joe Alt will be there to hold it down. Sam Hartman looks as good as promised as well.

- Yes, Kenny the Eagle has teeth. He's an Auburn fan, not a Bama fan.

As for George's question, my gut tells me no. They pushed for 12 teams, not because they wanted to get conferences in, but when you look at what teams generate the most revenue throughout the season (Notre Dame, USC, etc.) this was a move to let the powerhouses in. There will be fun ones to watch who randomly pop up in the year (Ole Miss every now and then, UT, North Carolina) have a shot at the big guys. USC and Oklahoma were going to eventually make the playoff regardless of whether they played in the SEC, Pac-12, B1G, or Big XII.

If you expand any further, you create more chaos. If you shrink, you admit that there was bias against one of the Power Five and invite back in some of that controversy you were trying to escape.

For now, let's enjoy the last year of the 4-team playoff and look forward to having more winner-takes-all games in the future.

- Matthew

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